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Mariella Frostrup Talks Children, Technology And Common Sense

16/07/2011 23:47 | Updated 22 May 2015
Mariella Frostrup talks children, technology and common sensePA

Mariella Frostrup, 48 – born in Norway and brought up in Ireland - is an arts presenter on TV (The Book Show on Sky Arts) and radio (Radio 4's Open Book) and agony aunt for The Observer.

Famous for her gravelly voice, she is married to human rights lawyer Jason McCue and lives with their two children and Yorkshire terrier/poodle cross (a Yorkiepoo) in Kensington, west London, and in a rented flat near Kingham, in Oxfordshire, where they go at weekends.

Celebrity friends include George Clooney and Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones's Diary.

How old are your children?

Molly is six, and Dan is five.

So they're not using much new technology yet?

Molly grabbed the iPad from me the other day when a film got stuck, tapped on it, and the thing started working. And she just sort of looked at me with this incredible smug look of self-satisfaction. But I think it's quite good for them to have things that they can do better than you.

What do they use at home?

I allow them to use a DS when we're travelling – but I have a new thing now that they have to remember to charge it themselves. I think part of the way to deal with the whole technology thing with kids is to empower them with it. But also I am quite strict. On the computer, they do Mathletics. They also like watching old Smurfs TV programmes and Bananaman – but they're really only allowed that as a reward if they've got their homework done or tidied their room.

Do parents lead by example?

That's where I've really failed. I've been sort of shamed by the research from the University of Cambridge and the BT five-point balanced diet because it really is just common sense. The amount of parents who complain to me that their children – who are older than mine, clearly – spend their entire time on the PC and then you find out that the PC is in their bedroom. And you think, well if you put it in a place that's totally accessible and you're allowed to be on it all the time, then that's what they're going to do.

What's your worst sin?

I have been very guilty of thinking I'm spending quality time with the kids – I've come home specially early to be with them and put them to bed – but actually I carry on working. So they'll be reading me their books from school, and I'll be keeping half an eye on whether the BlackBerry light's blinking.

Are you trying to change your behaviour?

I realise that it's all about creating a schedule for myself – enforcing some kind of office hours on my smartphone. At the moment, I go to see if I've got new phone messages the minute I get up in the morning at ten to seven, when actually I've got no time to do anything about them. Even if I did have time, they're not going to be of any world-shattering importance – it's nothing I can't deal with after I've calmly got the kids ready for school.

Is it hard for parents to change?

There's something quite compulsive about technology. It's miraculous what you can do. And I can see for an awful lot of mums who perhaps work part-time or spend more time at home than I do, it's absolutely wonderful that you can connect with the world and feel part of a community. Early days with a new baby are particularly tough for a lot of women. And quite lonely. But it's about balance. Human interaction, I think, does tend to suffer some of the time.

Everything is so user-friendly now – you can use communication technology wherever you are. Does that make it harder to ration it? Maybe it was easier when all we had was the old-fashioned telephone in the hall...

But I think the old-fashioned telephone in the hall is a lesson in itself. The computer in our house, as of about a month ago, is now in the equivalent of the hall. So when I do let the kids use it, which they will increasingly do, I'll be able to monitor it. I'll be kind of present to some extent.

Is it good to have rules about technology as a family?

Totally. I mean, you have rules in all other ways. And, as I say, I'm quite strict. I don't see why there isn't more of an emphasis on rules when it comes to communication devices – timings, and rewards and treats, and general respect for the amazing thing that it is.

Finally, how do you feel if you're with a friend and her phone rings and she answers it?

I think it's bad manners. And I've become very aware of it myself now, and I'm trying really hard to monitor it, and to switch the phone off when I'm sitting talking to someone. There's always the excuse with parents in the evenings that you need to be contactable for the babysitter. But what did parents do in the old days when you couldn't be contacted for a few hours? We need to relax a bit more and say, you know, it's OK not to be in touch.

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